A Sermon Preached On The Fifth Sunday after Trinity
The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
July 21, 2019 11:00 am
Well, fifty years ago yesterday humanity arrived on the moon, and today, going by Greenwich Mean Time (which is God’s time, right?), Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out and walked on the lunar surface. It was my was seventh birthday that July 21, 1969, and it was a thrilling thing to watch. I had grown up with the Space Race, following the exploits of the Gemini project and then the Apollo.In 1967 I went to Expo 67 in Montreal, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Confederation, and there I saw in the US pavilion artifacts from NASA.
The moon landing was the culmination of a decade’s incremental advances in astronautics, involving 400,000 people, from the human calculators such as Katherine Johnson, featured in the movie Hidden Figures, to Chris Craft, the ubiquitous head of Mission Control in Houston, Texas. The computer software on the spacecraft was built from the ground up by a team headed by Margaret Hamilton, and never demonstrated any bugs or errors – which was a good thing, as there was little margin for error.
It was a tremendous achievement. While many people criticized it then and now as an unnecessary extravaganza, for others it demonstrated what humanity was capable of doing when it put its mind to it. As a child born in the ‘sixties it was a symbol of progress and human ingenuity. While an American endeavour, there was a real sense that all humanity was involved. It still fills me with wonder every time I look at the moon over these Cretan hills and thing, “Wow, we really went there.”
But first things first. When the Eagle had landed on the Sea of Tranquility the first thing Buzz Aldrin did was take communion. He had brought the elements from his Presbyterian Church, where he was an elder, and gave thanks to God for the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Later, on Apollo 15, astronaut David Scott left a Bible on the Lunar Rover Vehicle, where it remains today.
These things came to mind this week as the media was filled with the fifty year anniversary, and I came across the story of Martha and Mary in the Gospel of Luke, our gospel for this day.
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Doesn’t that sound familiar? It is so easy to be distracted from the divine. Do we pray? Do we meditate? Do we read our scriptures? Do we reflect on our faith in Jesus Christ? Do we attend to Jesus and rest in his presence? It is commendable that in the midst of the moon landing that some of the astronauts took the opportunity to focus on God, in the person of Jesus Christ.
But the optimism and excitement I and so many others felt fifty years ago is a stark contrast to the way we feel today. different today.
- From Apollo 8 we saw the photograph of the Earth-rise and realized in a single picture, just one glimpse, the interconnectedness and fragility of creation. And today we find ourselves spoiling our planetary home, as the climate gets warmer and the weather more unpredictable. Politicians argue as they deny the science or acknowledge it, and find themselves trying to balance the immediate concerns of economics and jobs versus the long-term issues of global warming. And this comes home to us. Will we pay for the billion-euro power line to connect Crete to the continent of Europe, so that our power will not be generated by the burning of oil? Will we pay carbon taxes to encourage us to shift to renewable resources? Are we willing to forgo our flights on jets?
- Or think of the leadership in our nations. I was probably naive then, or maybe I am getting old, but it did seem we had better politicians in days past. The words of the psalm might have been written today about them, rather than 2700 years ago:
Your tongue is like a sharpened razor, * O worker of deception.
You love evil more than good * and lying more than speaking the truth.
You love all words that hurt, * O you deceitful tongue.
“This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, *
but trusted in great wealth
and relied upon wickedness.”
Or the words of the prophet Amos:
you that trample on the needy
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
- Or consider the role of religion in our societies, so long in decline:
The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.
To address all of these we need to keep first things first. God calls to us, in the midst of all of our distractions , not to simply dwell on these things and run to and fro trying to fix these things, but to set time aside to attend to God. There is time enough to attempt great things, necessary things, but as Christians we begin with Jesus, by gathering here, by listening and reflecting on scripture, by praying to God, and by sharing the meal that Jesus his son left us. Then, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we pray and read and preach the gospel in word and deed throughout the week.
We do these things, and through the faith that is in us we are changed, and so we are made capable of doing things that would have seemed impossible for us. And yet Jesus said in the Gospel of John that we would do greater things, and Paul writes that God, working in us, can do more than we can ask or imagine.
So, while we may want to be Marthas, may we, for a time, be Marys, that the better part may not be taken from us.